Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
If you’re just getting started in the world of medical marijuana, even walking into a dispensary can cause overwhelming uncertainty. You’ll see an array of different products and boards listing various strange names and strains you’re likely not familiar with. This includes the term “sativa.”
Similar to wine, you have a variety of different blends and flavors to choose from. Medical cannabis has three primary types:
Each of the names and strains you see falls under one of these categories. The sativa and indica nomenclature helps cultivators signify the growing conditions of a particular strain and its physical qualities. While many, if not most, marijuana strains fall under the hybrid category technically, true hybrid status is reserved for strains that are a result of a genetic crossing of sativa and indica.
It’s important to know the difference between sativa and indica strains, as each strain has a very different effect. Knowing the differences between these two strains can help you decide which one to choose when growing your own medicine or when purchasing it from a dispensary, depending on what your state laws allow.
In this guide, we’ll be discussing cannabis sativa specifically.
Cannabis sativa is a Cannabaceae family (hemp) species, which grows tall and has narrow leaves. The cannabis sativa strains are more stimulating than the indica strains. Individuals use these strains when they wish to feel more social, physically active and creative. If you’re using cannabis for medicinal purposes, sativa is the better choice to use during the day when suffering from:
The cannabis plant, in some countries, is a legal narcotic. It works primarily on your higher nerve centers, producing an invigorating intoxication, sometimes with hallucination. Sages and mystics have used it in the past widely to communicate with nature’s higher forces.
People have been cultivating cannabis sativa throughout recorded history, harvesting it for its seeds, oils and fibers. They’ve been using it historically for nutritional, industrial and medicinal purposes. These days, it continues to grow wild all over tropical and humid parts of the world.
Your temperament is what dictates its effect. Marijuana use seems less harmful than tobacco or alcohol — however, many countries still ban its use, including New Zealand, western countries and Australia.
You can identify sativa cannabis in a few ways:
The buds (female flowers) are more “feathery” and longer than cannabis indicas. The sativa strain flowers are also fluffier and lankier than indica buds or flowers. Unlike the tight, chunky flowers indica strains tend to have, sativa flower is typically very loose and stretched out. Many individuals refer to them as “Grinch Fingers.”
The cannabis sativa female flowers begin at the points where pairs of leaves grow from branches and stems (nodes) and typically grow out along the length of the branches and stems, rather than grouping up around the nodes as other cannabis types do. This flower formation is due to sativa’s tendency to flower and grow simultaneously. Because of this, female flowers of the sativa plant weigh less and are less dense than indica flowers, regardless of their being larger or equal in size.
The flowers in the cannabis indica strains tend to group up around the nodes, since the plant has already stopped growing once it reaches the flowering period. This is why indica flowers tend to be more dense and smaller than the spindly and light sativa flowers.
Sativa strains have a larger quantity of myrcene, terpinolene and other monoterpenes, causing them to have a delicate and floral aroma. They can be very pungent smelling, but overall their aromas range from fruity and sweet to earthy with diesel fuel undertones. Various favored strains have similar peppery and sweet aromas classic to sativa, such as:
While some strains, like Trainwreck, will be more peppery, others, such as Cherry AK, will be more on the sweet-smelling side. Even though these strains all provide similar effects, they are distinct mostly due to their aroma. In the past, budtenders and cultivators referred to this as their “terpene profiles.”
After you get to know all the various terpenes in medical weed, it’s relatively simple to detect the strain you’re using just by its scent alone. To the trained nose, sativas are easily discernible.
Marijuana sativa is a tall plant. Compared to other types, it is a lighter shade of green and is often tinged with purple. The sativa plant, which is better for outdoor growing, can grow up to 20 feet in a single season. Sativas proliferate in height once they start flowering. They may continue shooting up during this time by as much as 200 to 300 percent. Most varieties achieve a height of between eight and 12 feet.
It has long, narrow blades of leaves and provides more scattered foliage than other varieties. Because of this, air can flow in between and around the plant, leading to less fungus risk and healthier growth in tropical, humid conditions, where most of the sativa strains first came from. Sativas originally come from Southeast Asia, Mexico, Colombia and Thailand.
Compared to indica strains, sativa plants have lower yields, but the product is far more potent. Sativa strains have lower amounts of chlorophyll than indicas, which means they take much longer to mature than indica strains and need more light. After flowering begins, they mature in 10 to 16 weeks.
The height and lankiness of this type of strain result from the type of climates in which they grow. In areas of the world close to the equator, the day’s length hardly changes during the year. Therefore, sativas have started adapting to flowering and growing in uniform, short photoperiods, meaning they gain their height during their flowering and growing phases.
To finish flowering, sativas need anywhere from 60 to 90 days. They require less time overall, however. Therefore, the complete time needed for indica and sativa plants seem to work out similarly.
If you talk to a budtender about the effects of sativa, they will likely use some of the following phrases when describing this type:
Pure sativa strains usually require a combination of a flowering and growing period of approximately six months to completely ripen. Because of this, growers rarely cultivate pure sativa strains indoors or sell commercial cannabis seeds. The viable sativa strains for growing indoors are cross-bred with indicas to reduce the flowering time and their height. However, hybrids (sativa-indica) do have longer flowering periods.
When you’re using medical weed, the most crucial element is the effects. It’s each marijuana species chemical makeup, including its concentration of THC and CBD, you have to focus on to get the effect you’re looking for:
Although the cannabinoid profiles may differ substantially by strain, when you compare sativas to indicas, the former typically contain lower THC concentrations than the latter.
Sativas also contain tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). This is a molecular compound, similar to THC, whose psychoactivity (or lack of same) is still being studied by scientists. High Times conducted research finding sativa strains have higher THCV content — under 0.1 percent. The cannabinoid THCV by itself isn’t psychoactive, but when you mix it with THC, it generates a slight buzz and blocks the memory impairment, slightly, caused by THC.
The Journal of Psychopharmacology published a study recently delving into the various THCV effects when combined with THC. They also found THCV not to be psychoactive by itself, but concluded it does produce a high when mixed with THC through mechanisms researchers are still trying to uncover. Like the other research, they found THCV reduced THC’s memory impairment.
CBD and THC are distinct compounds known as cannabinoids. CBD excites the medical community due to its therapeutic benefits.
Sativa strains cause you to think creatively and analyze your human experience — probably why it’s a favored strain among artists, musicians and philosophers. Some sativa strains seem to enhance sounds and lights, making movies, music and other surroundings more vibrant.
Mayo Clinic reports researchers are continuously studying the sativa plant as a potential treatment for many illnesses, including:
The most substantial benefits are those used in treating multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Cannabis also helps reduce eye pressure in glaucoma patients.
Many individuals report sativas help to:
Since the sativa strain makes you feel so creative and energetic, artists tend to use it. Sativa benefits include:
Individuals use sativa strains to treat mental and behavioral problems, like depression and ADHD. It stimulates hunger, like indica, making it extremely useful if you receive a diagnosis of anorexia, cancer or HIV/AIDS.
Although sativas require growers to practice more patience, they produce a higher yield due to their longer vegetation, producing approximately three ounces to one pound of cannabis flower for each plant.
You’ll find sativa great for socializing. It’s invigorating, so individuals tend to use it during the daytime. When you use milder strains, it shouldn’t impede your mental focus or creative work. It also couples great with your cup of coffee in the morning.
Hybrids and high-CBD strains combine well with an everyday routine. CBD is known particularly for its medicinal value and offers varieties to suit anyone from beginners just getting started with cannabis therapy to experienced users.
Cannabis sativa typically only produces a mild high. It makes you feel cerebral, creative, energetic and giggly. Its effects are less overpowering than indica’s effects. Even though sativas do provide you with a boost of energy, some users do report experiencing:
Therefore, if you suffer from social anxiety, you may want to avoid these strains.
Although there are many sativa strains out there you can experiment with today, the most popular strains include:
Pure sativa strains include:
Other popular sativa strains include:
CBD oil seems to be the most popular delivery method when using a sativa strain. Budtenders extract the CBD oil from the CBD-heavy plant strain and use various solvents. They don’t use butane or other neurotoxic materials to extract the oil, which can leave a dangerous residue in their final products.
Other methods include:
If, after learning about cannabis sativa, you feel you need more information or are ready to give it a try, search for a medical marijuana doctor or find a dispensary at MarijuanaDoctors.com. We also have professionals who can help you with questions, give you recommendations and connect you with qualified doctors to get you started on your medical cannabis treatment.
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